Category Archives: Mystery UoS

Looking Through Different Perspectives: Setting Reading Goals A common thread: Intention, Engagement, Observation

Literacy Coach:

Intention: The Wheel of Strategic Action (WoSA) is a powerful teacher tool.  One that is worth meaningful study.  However, there seems to be a disconnect from the tool to its true power.   If we  turn the wheel into a physical structure in the classroom it connects to strategies making them more relatable to children.  It makes this theoretical tool become a viable influence on learning.  Everything changes when we take theory to practice by placing it in the hands of teachers and students alike. Now we have a  structure that supports student reflection and goal setting, while reminding teachers to keep the reader at the center of instruction.  A place to house teacher made and student made tools.

Engagement: Bringing the WoSA from a graphic to a physical  structure offers many invitations for engagement. The most important thing to know

is that it is deeply contextualized through story.  A story about building a Skyscraper (an analogy for critical thinking).  Its power rests in the belief that there has to be room for  student voices as co-creators of that story so it is meaningful to them.  Not only do they add their voices to the story, but they also lend their efforts towards creating strategic tools.

Observation: The goals students selected for themselves were goals I would have chosen for them.  While conferring with students I found that the next logical step was to have children generate tools that they could use for  themselves or each other.  This was very empowering because as students negotiated strategies that worked for them they took their learning to the highest level by creating a tool to represent that strategy.  My scaffold for this work was carefully worded open ended questions such as – what would a tool for this look like? I sent children off to get supplies and they got right to work and created tools that really helped them make applications for their own learning.  

Classroom Teacher:

Intention: Jenn and I have been studying the WoSA and creating structures in the classroom that reflect this process.  One of my core values  is that instruction in my classroom is consistent and has a strong underlying structure.  Another, is the importance of goal setting as a way to put learning in the hands of students.  In an effort to find a way to marry the two, Jenn and I created our reading wall; a place to display a visual representation of the reading process and pair it with tools to be used for goal setting and independence.  

Engagement: Student engagement is the key to making the structure  successful.  It  has to be meaningful to the students, it has to fit in with our learning and there needs to be time set aside to explore it.  Children love choice and this is built into setting goals- they have the power to choose what they will work on and how. They engaged in reflective work through conversation about their own reading lives.  It became personal because it was part of their own narrative.  Students are given a voice in creating the structure and have personalized it to represent their thinking.  It is important that teachers  show that goal setting is valued by setting time in each day for work around individual goals.  The WoSA is a continuous part of  the learning in the classroom and is not something that seems disconnected from their real learning- it has a true purpose and place.

Observation: Students felt empowered.  They were able to verbalize the strategic action they were setting their goal around and how it would help them with their reading.  When given a choice of tools to support this work, children were evaluating the pros and cons of a variety of tools and selecting the ones that fit their needs best.  If they were not satisfied with the choices, they worked collaboratively to create tools that would work for their learning style.  Students felt proud of their work and were eager to have conversations with peers about it.  Every moment was valued and children were focused on the job at hand, planning how they would get started.


Intention: Students shared their intentions for goal setting through a grand conversation around reflecting our their reading lives (what they do well and what they are working on)  “Can my goal be something I already do good but I want to work on more?”  “ I want to try different things that I don’t do already!”  

Engagement: Students are excited about setting goals, making tools and working in the process.  It starts with deep reflection and then students quickly wrote their names on post its.  They clammered around the wall placing their post its on the strategic action that they wanted to explore. They were dedicated to this work and wanted to do it.  Tools were chosen or created- something that would support them in their learning.  Students got right to work because they knew this work was important. This level of engagement sparks agency.   

Observation: Here is what our students had to say.

  • “We all need different tools.  I want to use the award ribbon to critique my books and he wants to use the thumbs up and thumbs down.  I don’t like that one because I like to give awards instead. We can use whichever we want.”
  • “We worked really well together to make our tool and Mrs. DeRosa likes it so much she is going to put it in the folder for the rest of the class.”
  • “When we talk about books, the both of us never talk about what is going to happen.  We just keep reading.  I think it will be interesting to stop and guess what is going to happen.  This will slow us down a little bit.”
  • “She likes to make her own pictures to go with the connections.  I am not very good at drawing, so I think I am going to use the one she makes or maybe I’ll use the one in the book. I could try both.”
  • “Wow, she is able to use my tool to figure out the words.  That really helps.”
  • “This makes sense I think I should make a diagram of the word so you can see the parts.” She drew arrows and colored parts of the word.

Going From Good to Great a Journey Not a Destination

Those of you who follow us know we are involved in a weekly Twitter Chat, #G2Great with Dr. Mary Howard. If you don’t know, the  focus of the chat is all about blogg2great2teacher reflection. We meet every Thursday night at 8:30PM EST.  If you are curious, and everyone is welcome – we would be glad to “see” you.  This work has evolved into a new phase of learning involving Voxer.  If you don’t know Voxer it is worth checking out –    It is sort of like a huge conference
call where you can talk and share pictures/videos. In short it is a dynamic learning space that can
accommodate a free flowing exchange of ideas.

Our Voxer challenge, emerged from fellow connected educators: Amy Brennan (@brennanamy) and Jean Marie Mazzaferro (@SunflowerLit). The work  was to use the Reflective Lesson Analysis and Interactive Samples form:  as a way to reflect on our current practice.  In order to really fully understand the context and to benefit from Dr. Howard’s work, we highly recommend reading her book Good to Great Teaching.  and following her on Twitter (@DrMaryHoward) just because she is AMAZING! What makes her so amazing? She is an author who cares deeply for children and teachers.  She is in touch and brings research seamlessly into practice.  Truly a teacher to admire; she is a mentor for all those who want to do the hard work of reflection.

For this challenge, we co-taught a mini-lesson in Reader’s Workshop entitled “Mystery Readers Look Closely At How Secondary Characters Change The Story”. Need another reason to check out Twitter? Our work this year in our mystery unit of study has been vastly influenced by another dynamic member of our PLN on Twitter – Jenna Hansen (@jehansen13 ).  So this work that we are sharing is truly a compilation of many voices from all over the nation in one classroom on Long Island, New York.  Upon completion of the lesson, we had a coaching session to reflect on how it went in terms of bad, good and great practices that were present.  This is how it went.

“Bad” practices:  We are teachers who believe strongly in pairing visual representations with our words whenever possible.  When looking at this lesson, we realized that during the active engagement part we were using visual representations to model our thinking but this was not included on our anchor chart.  We are all about students having tools and realized we were missing a huge opportunity here.  As part of our recent practice we post daily mini-lessons up so we have a visual representation of the mini-lessons that have been taught.  Instead of making this a way for the teacher to stay organized and to keep records of mini-lessons, we want to make it more valuable and turn it into a student resource that they can revisit during their independent work.  This fits into our bigger plan for this school year to find organizational systems to encourage and engage our students to use tools to foster independence.

“Good” practices.  Read aloud is the foundation for our workshop mini-lessons.  The use of our mentor text allowed the children to connect to our teaching point anblogg2greatd pushed their thinking to a higher level.  We have been reading aloud Encyclopedia Brown and doing a lot of comprehension work around it.  However, this mini-lesson asked the children to look more deeply at characters in the mystery which is not the usual thinking children are used to when reading mystery.  ( shout out to Jenna Hansen). They are usually focused on searching for clues and solving the mystery so this work involving character development was at a much deeper level. They were able to engage in this type of thinking because the foundation was already laid as we read aloud and worked within our mentor text.  Also, during the independent reading time, the children were actively engaged and capturing their thinking.  As we conferenced, it was evident that they knew the focus and were rising up to the challenge.

“Great” practices: This involved the level of student engagement during the active engagement portion of the mini-lesson.  Student dialogue was rich and it revealed genuine, authentic understanding of the character development.  Dialogue sparked debate as character behavior was questioned and the children used accountable talk naturally to support their opinions, push the group’s  thinking and to question their counterpart.  In one part, students worked together and took on the role of teacher and expert as they discussed the characters in the book.  This strong understanding allowed the children to synthesize their ideas and build strong theories about the characters including lessons they could learn from them.

Instructional Adjustments: One thing we were going to try is to make copies of the characters from the mentor text ahead of time so we can manipulate them and add them to the anchor chart as a quick and easy way to use visual representations.  Also, the discussion during the mini-lesson made us think about making relational connections between character development and text structure; compare and contrast, problem and solution, and cause and affect.

How did it go: The next mini-lesson we did was “Mystery Readers Compare and Contrast Characters To Better Understand Their Relationships”.  Students were able to use the venn diagram to show how the characters are different and then ask what they have in common (common goals).  After doing this the B9HzEasIAAIAEmpchildren were asked to look through an author’s eye and discuss why the author chose to make the characters this way.  The discussions that followed were so insightful.  Students chose suspects to compare and contrast and realized that the author made choices so the readers would be interested in the mystery, would be questioning guilt and would want to read to figure out which of the suspects did it.  Some chose two detectives and realized the author gave them  traits that complimented each other and this allowed them to work together to put the pieces together to be successful.  On Monday, we will focus on problem and solution structure analyzing if our character is part of the problem or the solution and how this impacts the mystery.  We will keep you posted on how it goes.

Whodunnit? Planning A Mystery UoS

MysteryThis is a fun UoS – children enjoy it and it has a lot to offer.  There are many reasons to reread; to find clues, to examine characters and their motivations, and to clarify summative predictions.  Jill and I have been having ongoing discussions for how this UoS could go.  Some questions we were hashing out were:

Q) Do we want to align the reading (mystery) unit with the writing (opinion) unit?

A)  Yes we do want to and this is how we are going to do it.  Opinion writing is a genre that we have interwoven throughout other units of study.  As students are studying characters, series, informational topics, biographies and authors they are generating opinions which they debate, advertise and write about.  In this UoS we want to challenge the students and take it up a notch.  We are going to do this as students take on both sides of an opinion.  Students will write opinion pieces about suspects from their mystery.  First they will try to persuade others that the suspect in guilty and next they will write an opposing piece that will try to persuade others that the suspect is innocent.  The focus of this activity will be to show students that in opinion writing word choice is so important , how what is not said can have huge impacts, and the importance of knowing what your position is when presenting your information.  The same situation can be portrayed very differently depending on what you focus on.

Q) How do we want to culminate the UoS celebration into a final project that will be engaging to children?  Our big work this year  has been to focus on our celebrations to be the driver of agency.  Students are working along a gradual release of responsibility that eventually leads to independence.  The most striking observation so far is that  they are totally immersed in their own work. This work has to amount to something – and that happens in the celebration.

A)  This is how we see the celebration going:

  • Each group sets up a crime scene with tape and all.  The crime scene includes the clues needed to solve the mystery.
  • The question (crime) is posted near the crime scene so other students know what they need to solve.
  • The suspect cards (innocent and guilty) are displayed on a table near the crime scene.
  • Students are given time to be detectives as they examine the crime scene, clues and get to know the suspects
  • Students choose solutions to the crime which are based on how well the group has made their case
  • Suspect opinion cards are evaluated to see which were the most powerful and chosen most often

This is a rough sketch of what we are imagining this UoS might look like.  We will continue to collaborate and have conversations with our students and colleagues to inform the planning.  Tonight on our #g2great chat, we discussed engagement and we believe that in order to have engagement we need to present our students with lessons  that challenge their thinking but at the same time are fun.  We are doing our best to think like a kid and find ways to motivate them to want to learn.

This is only the beginning of our process- stay tuned for more.  If you would like to get a feel for what the celebration might be like, take a look at this link from Crashbox an HBO series that has the same feel for what we are trying to convey: